FAA to present results of runway re-evaluation
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
The Federal Aviation Administration will hold four public meetings this summer to present results from a re-evaluation of an environmental impact study conducted several years ago before the scheduled opening of a new runway in October on the far south side of O’Hare International Airport.
Aviation administration spokesman Tony Molinaro said that the reason for the re-evaluation is because of a change in the schedule of the construction of runways. Molinaro said that runway 10 Right/28 Left was originally scheduled to be the last to open.
Molinaro said that the city agreed with United and American airlines on a schedule to open new runways as part of the O’Hare Modernization Plan, but that the schedule has since changed and a re-evaluation is required. Runway 9 Center/27 Center originally was the next one to be commissioned, but now it is scheduled to be completed by 2020.
"(10R/28L) got bumped up ahead of schedule, and because of the opening of that new runway, we had begun to conduct the analysis in January," Molinaro said. "We are looking at how the new runway will affect the issue of noise and air quality."
The runway will be located north of Irving Park Road, which was redirected in recent years to make way for it.
Molinaro said that staff has been working on computer modeling to see how air traffic will be affected and how it will affect the use of other runways and what changes might occur.
"Now the environmental team will come in and determine changes in noise and air quality, and the results will be coming out in the summer so that the public can view them," Molinaro said. He said that the dates of the public meetings have not been confirmed.
The FAA originally was going to hold two 12-hour open house-type meetings, the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition and other groups called that number of meetings insufficient.
"Moving from two to four meetings is still completely insufficient," coalition co-founder Jac Charlier said. "This will affect thousands of people and will likely offer no solutions to the noise problems that affect the Northwest Side and the suburbs."
"There are external forces at play here, and our political system is broken," Charlier said. "The mayor should be advocating on the people’s behalf, but the mayor just refuses to meet with people."
However, Mayor Rahm Emanuel met with FAA officials recently and pushed for increasing the number of public meetings.
"Mayor Emanuel expressed his concerns with the original plan to hold two 12-hour meetings, so we agreed to a new plan of four public meetings," FAA administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement. "The FAA has always been committed to a full and open process that provides those who work and live near the airport with an opportunity to be heard."
Alderman Margaret Laurino (39th) applauded Emanuel for successfully negotiating with the FAA and said that she is pushing for the meetings to be held in neighborhoods that will be most affected by the jet noise.
Previous public hearings on the O’Hare Modernization Plan, which shifted runway use to an east-west flow, were criticized for not being held in the areas that were the most affected by noise.
"I applaud the mayor for not only securing more public meetings, but because he came through on his commitment to pressure the FAA to be more responsive to residents smothered by jet noise," Laurino said. "I will also keep pressing to have the new public meetings scheduled for areas hardest hit by air traffic."
Laurino said that she had secured more noise monitors for the 39th Ward and put a referendum on the ballot which gave city voters the opportunity to send a message to the FAA about the need for more soundproofing of homes.
Molinaro said that the noise study about more soundproofing is a separate study being conducted nationally.
However, Charlier said that officials have not done enough to meet with residents on noise and air quality issues. "It’s an issues affecting more than 10,000 people, and that requires way more than two or four meetings," he said. "The decisions behind the scenes have been done and it’s just a shady process but at least now there is more public attention to it.
"The FAIR Coalition continues to maintain that the mayor needs to own this issue because there is an accountability factor here," Charlier said.
Last year the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission asked the FAA to complete the O’Hare Modernization Environmental Statement re-evaluation by January of this year and to conduct a supplemental EIS before the opening of the new runway in October.
In a letter dated Dec. 23, 2014, Huerta said that the previous impact study had addressed future conditions and environmental impacts appropriately and there was no justification to perform an additional supplemental study.
The purpose of the re-evaluation is to determine if the conclusions reached in the original study remain valid and if additional studies are warranted. The re-evaluation will provide a snapshot of anticipated noise when the new runway opens.
The re-evaluation will provide a similar noise assessment for when runway 9 Center/27 Center opens in 2020.
In addition, the city Department of Aviation has stated previously that it was planning to close one of the diagonal runways in August.
State Senator John Mulroe (D-10) sponsored two bills that were both approved by the Illinois Senate by 52-0 votes. Both measures are expected to be heard by the Illinois House.
Under Senate Bill 636 and Senate Bill 637, O’Hare would be required to keep the existing runways intact, including the existing diagonal runways that allowed air traffic to be more evenly distributed. Mulroe said that by not using the diagonal runways, 97 percent of air traffic was directed to communities east and west of the airport which resulted in significantly increased numbers of complaints about noise.
According to the city Department of Aviation, there were 39,500 complaints in January, compared to 6,321 complaints in January of last year. However, the department said that about 63 percent of the recorded complaints came from six addresses. There were a total of 268,211 complaints in 2014, 29,493 in 2013, 21,497 in 2012 and 24,047 in 2011. In 2007 there were 1,248 calls.
"With these two measures we are trying to reach a compromise," Mulroe said. "The airport will continue to work toward its goal of higher efficiency and the people in the surrounding communities would regain some of the peace and quiet that attracted them to these communities initially."
"Most people on the Northwest Side are up in arms about this," Mulroe said. He said that research found that the airport can only operate eight runways.
"In order to operate more runways, they would need permission from the state, so I think that’s why one of the bills increases the number of allowed runways to 10 and that would eliminate the argument that they need to decommission the diagonal ones," Mulroe said.
"The second bill is more direct and prohibits the closure of the diagonal runways period," Mulroe said. "This will give people an opportunity to deal with the noise issue, and we can have a conversation that is not being rushed.
"I don’t want a Meigs Field at O’Hare. I am responding to my communities and their cries for help."
Mulroe said that he understands that the airport is an economic engine for the city and that the parallel runways were designed to increase efficiency.
"But did they really increase efficiency? If not, then they failed on their goals," he said. "They said that the diagonal runways were closed out of safety concerns, but were they really that unsafe? You would think that if there were some concerns you would hear about them by now."
Mulroe said that the purpose of the bills is to allow extra time in dealing with the airport’s increased noise.
"The FAA doesn’t close or open runways, the city does," Molinaro said. "The only thing that’s really changing for us is that a new runway will be opening a lot sooner than originally expected, and we want to re-evaluate the impact of that."